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Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

The English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatres brought D.H Lawrence’s controversial and censured masterpiece, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) to life on 25th October at the York Theatre Royal.

The script had been carefully adapted by Philip Breen to incorporate the intricate elements of Lawrence’s original narrative and language, including that of the previously filtered vocabulary used, with audiences hearing the word c*nt used freely during the performance. This exploration of ‘obscene’ language is one that branded the text unsavoury, crude and bordering on the pornographic, meaning that it was not deemed appropriate to be published in the United Kingdom until 1960.

The text itself is one riddled with social history: the socialist uprising and movements surrounding the rights of working class men, particularly that of the colliers, is something that the play definitely captured. The touches of social history, however, sometimes felt uncomfortably inserted. This was demonstrated by one particular scene in which a crowd burst onto the stage, waving a red flag, promptly followed by a policeman who began to awkwardly beat up some of crowd members with a bending baton and then proceeded to exit the stage without any resolution having been reached. This scene was sandwiched between unlinking scenes of lust and intimacy which dominated the play, and so felt like an out of place reminder of the external problems occurring at the time.

The cross section of society was well represented and vital through the adaptation of the script and the development of Clifford, Connie and Mellors. Hedydd Dylan portrayed a gentle and meek Constance Chatterley with the strength of Eugene O’Hare as Clifford feeling unbalanced beside it. The text outlines the fraught and frayed relationship of Sir Clifford and Lady Chatterley in a post-war setup after Clifford loses the use of his legs, meaning that Connie is dominated by menial domestic chores and tasks which takes a toll on her well-being. Additionally, Clifford’s restricted movement means the sexual aspect of their partnership has been abruptly cut short, leaving both members of the relationship unsatisfied and uncomfortable.

Eugene O’Hare as Clifford - Photo Credit: York Theatre Royal
Eugene O’Hare as Clifford – Photo Credit: York Theatre Royal

This bland and unhappy relationship was reflected in the staging of the first half of the play. The setup of the scenery and props were plain and sparse. At times, the first half dragged despite the extremely abrupt scenes, some of which only lasted a number of seconds. Although the script was excellent, the brevity of the scenes and the sometimes lulling performance from those on stage made the first act somewhat dull.

As Connie’s secret affair with Mellors, the gamekeeper, developed, the character development did not. Mellors was, as he is supposed to be in the text, a brooding figure of masculinity who is stern and silent, which undoubtedly, Jonah Russell created in the first half. In the second half however, Russell’s Mellors began to behave in a softer manner, as he frolicked naked in amongst flowers which were strewn about the stage, which cleverly and delicately indicated the changing of the seasons and passing time. This scene mirrored that of a Biblical Garden of Eden set up with both Mellors and Connie confidently and joyfully skipping in the rain, naked and covered with floral gardens. This scene did feel too idyllic in its naivety, but the staging was visually compelling nonetheless.

Hedydd Dylan as Lady Chatterley and Jonah Russell as Mellors -  Photo Credit: York Theatre Royal
Hedydd Dylan as Lady Chatterley and Jonah Russell as Mellors – Photo Credit: York Theatre Royal

The play was ignited by Eugene O’Hare’s portrayal of the emasculated and frustrated Clifford. The pain felt by Clifford as he attempted to walk for the first time since his accident was clearly represented by O’Hare with intense facial expressions and a dedication to the depiction of agony. As well as O’Hare, another highlight of this production was the music. The occasional punctuation of David Osmond’s exquisite piano playing on stage was fitting and initiated changing scenes cleverly and delicately. 

Undoubtedly, this play was too long, at 2 hours 40 minutes, the audience were restless during the longer and more contemplative scenes. This play was, however, very captivating in many respects; the floral displays and setting, the script, the attention drawn to the male and female body, the acting from O’Hare particularly.

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Emily McDonnell-Thomas